Yesterday was cloudy, gloomy, and rainy in the Bay area. A series of storms have been hitting the coast hard over the last few days. As a result, it was a perfect opportunity to visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. To my delight, it was worth the trip to investigate the thought provoking and amazing art practice of Jay DeFeo.
Imagine a painting taking almost 8 years to finish and weighing 2,300 pounds. For Jay DeFeo it’s a reality. The Rose became her most recognizable and heaviest piece. The piece is 8 inches thick in some areas and towers over viewers at the epic size of 110.5 inches by 81.5 inches tall. It’s top layer is made out of oil, wood, and mica on canvas. Jay DeFeo: “…when I started The Rose, I had no notion of the rose about it. The title came later. It was just a painting. And all I knew about it was that it was going to have a center. When I started, it wasn’t a symmetrical thing. It was off-center.”
In 1929, DeFeo was born in Hanover, New Hampshire. She grew up in the Bay area and received two degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. DeFeo became an important figure at a time dominated by male artists. In the late 1950’s, she was part of many notable exhibitions but slowly stepped away from the art world in the 1960’s. Not until the 1970’s did DeFeo reappear and she eventually accepted a teaching position in 1981 at Mills College in Oakland, CA. Unfortunately, DeFeo died of cancer at the young age of 60 in 1989.
According to a Smithsonian Archives of Art interview in 1975 by Paul Karlstrom, Jay DeFeo states: “I think people find their way as artists sometimes early on life, sometimes late. And heaven knows there’s been some fantastic artists in history that have begun in middle years, or even their late years. But it just so happened, in my case, there was never any doubt about it. I don’t think that makes you any less or more of a creative person.” DeFeo’s courage and confidence exudes a strong silence. No doubt, she lived her life in purpose and resolve.
The Jay DeFeo painting retrospective featuring almost 130 works of photographs, collages, drawings, jewelry, sculptures, and paintings will be at the SFMOMA till Feb. 3, 2013. As the winds from the last night’s storm shook the house and howled, it was well worth the expedition: rain, shine, red light ticket, and all…